The study of public health focuses on improving health in communities and populations. While clinical health professionals focus on prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease and injury in individuals, public health professionals are concerned with prevention of disease, injury, and death in entire populations.
Public health professionals also work to ensure access to health care for all and to promote healthy behaviors in communities and entire populations. Researchers may study the interplay of genetics, behaviors, the environment, health care, and social and economic factors to determine their impact on public health in different settings. They often use epidemiology, the foundation science or “language” of public health, to discover health risks and how to reach specific populations with interventions to improve their health.
The study of public health – including the implementation of prevention measures, the promotion of healthy behaviors, and research into global and community health – spans a variety of academic disciplines and professions. Among them:
- Biostatistics: Statistics are used to track health trends and population health.
- Clinical practices and procedures: Public health concerns influence the practices and procedures of clinicians in medicine, nursing, dentistry, pharmacy, and even veterinary medicine.
- Emergency medical services and disaster preparation: Public health considerations have an impact on the training and licensing of first responders and how communities here and abroad prepare for and respond to disasters.
- Environmental health: Public health professionals focus on protecting food, water, and air. They research how various environments affect the health of populations in communities, workplaces, and schools.
- Epidemiology: Preventing, tracking, and responding to disease outbreaks and food and water contamination is a cornerstone of public health.
- Global health: Public health professionals research health issues in cultures and populations worldwide and track diseases within various countries and across borders.
- Health education: Public health focuses on educating specific or broader populations about healthy habits and health risks, whether it’s delivering sex education to teens, implementing anti-smoking campaigns community-wide, or promoting vaccine awareness among parents.
- Health laboratory practices: Public health awareness results in biological tests, screening, and environmental samples to prevent disease and contamination.
- Health care management: Knowledge of public health has an impact on quality of health care, finances, and human resources in hospitals; implementation of procedures, policies and practices; and more.
- Health care policy: Public health professionals work with policy makers on laws that increase access to health care for all and promote healthy populations.
- Insurance: Public health professionals work with insurance companies to research health care trends, study populations, and implement policies.
- Nutrition, exercise, and wellness: Promoting healthy eating habits and exercise, researching healthy habits and considering the impacts of stress on various populations all have dramatic effects on public health.
- Women’s and children’s health: Public health professionals promote and research healthy behaviors and practices that benefit the health of women and children.
Overall, the study of public health has a great impact on the health and quality of life for individuals and communities worldwide.
Jan Carney, M.D., M.P.H., is associate dean for public health at the University of Vermont.